When Publishing Really Gets Collaborative: Crowdfunding for Writers

As a college senior studying writing and publishing, I’ve spent much of the past four years weighing the benefits and drawbacks of traditional and self-publishing. Which is more cost-effective? How long does either process take? Which experience is more fulfilling as a first-time author? Sometimes, it seems like there are too many questions to count, let alone consider.


This semester, I stumbled across yet another facet of publishing I hadn’t even known existed, and another factor to add to the litany of others: crowdfunding.


The idea behind crowdfunding isn’t a new one. In fact, it’s been around for centuries, taking place whenever groups of people donate their own money to a specific cause that is funded by those very donations. Crowdfunding is fueled by common interests, when many people are invested in an idea or product that they want to see come to fruition.


Today, it’s a fairly simple process to start a crowdfunding project. There are scores of websites dedicated to it all over the Internet, and most people are familiar with at least two of them: Kickstarter and Indiegogo.


Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo feature categories dedicated to publishing and writing, respectively. And they’re both categories I never even considered searching for on these websites, which I always associated with funding innovative technological prototypes and charitable ventures, and sometimes even Etsy-esque projects. But crowdfunding websites are open to any endeavor, so why shouldn’t publishing be one of them? It seems I’m not the only one to have this opinion, because in 2016 Kickstarter reached its $100 million milestone in the publishing category alone!


In fact, there are entire websites dedicated solely to crowdfunding authors such as Unbound, Publishizer, and PubSlush, which was acquired by Colbourne Communications in 2015 and rebranded this year as PubLaunch.


All of these crowdfunders have helped authors raise thousands of dollars, often to support the author while they’re writing as well as to offset the costs of layout and design, editing, publishing, and distributing the finished product. The variety of publishing projects on these websites is endless, from genre books to children’s picture books, photography books to memoirs, art books to poetry anthologies, cookbooks to interactive e-books, and even funding programs for writers.


Many of the people running these crowdfunding projects promise potential donors e-books or physical books (sometimes even signed copies) if they help fund their campaign, essentially selling pre-orders in order to fund writing their books. It’s a pretty neat idea when you think about it. Of course, the prizes are just as varied as the ones you can find on any crowdfunded project. One collaborative book project on Indiegogo even offered a full book edit by an editor for HarperCollins (which was unsurprisingly claimed).


Unbound is a bit different from the rest of these websites and works almost like a small publishing house that’s based in the UK, choosing which projects they want to publish only after the author has pitched their manuscript to the editorial team. Oh yeah, and they employ a full team of editors, designers, and publishing managers to prepare the author’s manuscript for publication.


The crowdfunding-meets-publishing-house platform works by selling pre-orders of the book while the author works on their manuscript, using those funds to publish the finished novel. Unbound then takes 50 percent of the profits made off the books, leaving the other 50 percent for author to pocket for themselves, and even promises to sell the books through Penguin Random House, one of the biggest names in publishing around the world.


Publishizer may not differ from the traditional crowdfunding model as much as Unbound does, but the site goes one step further than others like Kickstarter and Indiegogo by helping authors land publishing deals with traditional publishing houses. Authors can still go the self-publishing route if they choose to, of course — it’s completely up to them. But if an author gets 500 pre-orders, the people working at Publishizer will help that author query their manuscript to traditional publishers and the author keeps 70 percent of the money earned. The downside of choosing to fund with Publishizer, however, is that authors who don’t hit the minimum goal don’t see a dime and all of their pre-orders are fully refunded.


PubLaunch is still in beta but, similar to Kickstarter and Indiegogo, features categories that projects can be sorted into. These categories can get as specific as genre and as broad as “graphic novels” and “young adult.” PubLaunch seems to be similar to Unbound in that it features manuscripts on its site to be crowdfunded and is worked on by a publishing team provided to each author who gets funded, although because the website is still in beta there isn’t too much information about how the site works just yet.


Since Kickstarter and Indiegogo both feature a multitude of projects, neither helps authors with the publishing process beyond raising their stated goal. This provides indie and self-publishing authors with the freedom they want to take complete control of the publishing process. Both sites take 5 percent of the money each author raises and employs a three to 5 percent payment processor fee, but the author gets to keep the rest.


There is, however, one important difference to note between the two: any project that doesn’t meet its fundraising goal on Kickstarter doesn’t keep a cent of the funds raised, whereas even projects that don’t meet their stated goals on Indiegogo get to keep whatever money was raised during the allotted time period.


Crowdfunding opens up a whole new world of publishing I never even knew existed. It makes the publishing process interactive, collaborative, affordable, and even fun, and the existence of so many different types of websites caters to authors who prefer self-publishing and those who’d like to venture down the more traditional route alike.